You’re a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and you love what you do. The problem is, your CNA job isn’t covering the bills. How can you make the jump from CNA to LPN and significantly increase your salary? In this article, we’ve compiled strategies for how you can successfully move up in your nursing career and earn more money without derailing your life.

What is an LPN anyway?
LPN stands for licensed practical nurse. “LPNs perform many of the same patient care activities as CNAs, but with a much greater focus on clinical skill and intervention,” says Clinical Resource Specialist Gwennetta Patterson, RN, who works at Maxim Healthcare. In some states, like California, this role is referred to as a licensed vocational nurse or LVN.

CNAs help patients with activities of daily living, which includes things like:

  • bathing
  • dressing
  • eating
  • using the bathroom
  • taking medicine

An LPN or LVN does all of these things but plus more clinical tasks. Job duties can vary by state, but typically, an LPN can:

  • take vital signs
  • place catheters
  • give injections and enemas
  • dress wounds
  • collect samples for lab testing

Benefits of becoming an LPN
A practical nursing degree (LPN/LVN) usually takes only one or two years to complete, depending on the program, while a professional nursing degree (RN) can take up to four years. LPNs are able to enter the workforce more quickly and start making money. LPNs enjoy plentiful career options, and the field is expected to continuously grow. It’s not difficult to find an entry-level position once you graduate, and you can always go back and become an RN if you choose.

“Once you become an LPN, you’ll have a better ability to advocate for your patients all while being more involved in their advanced healthcare needs,” says Ashley Sasser, RN, an area vice president of clinical operations at Maxim Healthcare Services.

Many LPNs choose to go into home care, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living. “The patient-to-nurse ratio for home care is one to one,” says Patterson. “Not only is it easier on you physically, but you’re able to dedicate your nursing skills and judgement to be the patient’s advocate. It’s more of a holistic approach in home care versus care in the hospital.”

Education and training for CNA vs. LPN
While it depends on the state and program, most LPN programs are about 12 months, while a CNA program only takes a few weeks to complete. Some schools offer associate’s degree programs that take two years to complete. You don’t have to be a CNA to be accepted into an LPN program, but it helps because you’ll already have some of the basics down, like medical terminology and transferring patients.

Students can choose to go part-time or full-time, in person or online, during the day, evening or on the weekend. You can expect classroom lectures, individual study and hands-on training in a clinical skills lab. Here are some courses you will take:

  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Math
  • Nursing concepts
  • Psychology
  • English composition
  • Human development

After you complete the LPN program, you’ll sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). This is the exam that new graduates must pass in order to work as an LPN or LVN.

Community colleges and technical schools offer LPN programs. You can also look to see if any hospitals or high schools in your area offer an LPN program.

Salaries for CNA vs. LPN
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median CNA salary is about $29,660 per year, while the median LPN salary is $47,480. Pay rates vary greatly depending on where you live and where you practice. For example, an LPN working in a hospital typically makes more than an LPN working in home care, since the hospital environment can be more physically demanding and you are responsible for more patients.

“There’s a substantial jump in hourly pay for an LPN compared to that of a CNA,” says Sasser. “The difference, at times, may be anywhere from $8 to $10, possibly more.”

Online tools are available so you can find out LPN salary information by zip code and compare your area’s pay rates for a CNA with that of an LPN. In Maryland, for example, a CNA makes about $15 per hour, while an LPN makes about $26 per hour. That’s a big difference.

LPNs and nurses alike are more important than ever

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. had a nurse shortage, especially RNs, as baby boomers get older and their healthcare needs grow. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the nursing shortage will continue to persist for years to come, and will be most critical in the South and West. There is a shortage of nursing school faculty, clinical training sites, classroom space and budget. Because of this, thousands of nursing school applicants are actually turned away each year.

The good news is that the government, universities and healthcare organizations are working to close the gap with strategies to combat the nursing shortage. This includes programs that allow nursing students to earn money while they’re obtaining their degree and pipeline programs where companies develop education models in order to “grow” their own nurses.

Ways to advance from CNA to LPN
Here are some strategies for making the leap from CNA to LPN:

  1. Ask your current employer if they offer any assistance. Often, employers want to help CNAs advance their careers because they need more LPNs and RNs. Depending on where you work, they may offer tuition assistance, on-the-job training or allow you to adjust your schedule so you can attend classes.
  2. Talk to other nurses and ask how they did it. Don’t be shy! People are usually very happy to share their experiences with others who want to learn, and can provide you with great tips and resources that helped them along the way.
  3. Find a bridge program. CNA-to-LPN bridge programs are tailored to CNAs and may accept some CNA courses for credit. Some offer online classes, which is great for people who need flexibility due to other responsibilities like work and family.

How to pay for LPN school
LPN school can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 or more, depending on the program and location. The average cost of an LPN program is $10,000 to $15,000. When budgeting, it’s important to remember to factor in the cost of things like:

  • application fees
  • books
  • uniforms
  • transportation
  • childcare
  • health screenings

Financial help is available. “Colleges offer tuition discounts, waived application fees, personalized coaching, and direct delayed billing,” says Patterson.

Here are some ways to find help paying for LPN school

  • Scholarships: There are an abundance of scholarships available for CNAs who want to become LPNs and RNs. You can earn nursing scholarships from associations, non-profits, private companies, and government agencies.
  • Government loans: Make sure you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see whether you’re eligible for a federal loan. In addition, FAFSA will also tell you whether you’re eligible for financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships.
  • Military: Enlisting in any branch of the military makes you eligible for a loan forgiveness program. Active duty service members are eligible to take online college courses and the military will cover 100 percent of the tuition, including books, fees, and technology costs. Military spouses are also eligible for financial assistance through the military. Military veterans are also eligible for education benefits, such as the GI Bill, which helps veterans, their spouses, and families get money to cover some or all of the costs for LPN school.
  • Hospitals: Some hospitals really need nurses – so much so that they are willing to pay people to go to nursing school. Some hospitals will hire you as a CNA and offer tuition reimbursement, financial assistance or pay off your school loans. Check your local hospitals’ websites to see if there is a program available near you.
  • Community Action Partnership: This nationwide network of 1,000 agencies helps connect people with free and low-cost resources and opportunities to help them succeed. This includes helping people build assets and financial skills, budgeting and savings programs, tax assistance, finding affordable child care, and more. Contact the Community Action Partnership at 202-265-7546 or [email protected].

It helps to know how to budget your money. Besides the Community Action Partnership, check out free resources like the Mint app or contact your bank to see if they offer any free money management classes.

The bottom line
Making the jump from CNA to LPN may seem scary, but you can do it! By seeking out support from loved ones, your current employer, the government, community networks and others who are part of your tribe, you can achieve your goals of doing more for your patients while earning significantly more money.

At Maxim, you will find a willingness to create opportunity and facilitate training for CNAs so they can become LPNs and RNs. View our current job openings in your area today!